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Lost in Uttar Pradesh : New and Selected Stories
Evan S. Connell is by any measure one of America's greatest living writers. His restraint, concision, and perfect pitch lend themselves stunningly to the short story form. He intuitively senses when to explain and when to let silence stand in speech's stead. His characters---among them, a wanderer back from Spain, the corpulent Mr. Bemis, Katia and her lion--ring true not because the stories are filled with monumental events, but because they center on seemingly insignificant experiences that remain in the mind, imbued with a meaning ever difficult to define. Often we are left to float in their wake, ending in an ellipsis of sorts. Yet by Connell's mastery, even the voices that speak only once resonate beyond the final page.
Virtually all of these 22 stories from octogenarian Connell (Mrs. Bridge) are set in the U.S.-"an insensate, vulgar, flatulent, bloodless...nation of merchant, thugs, Protestants, and barbers"-where trapped characters fantasize of faraway lands. Its women-profiteering grifters and whores ("St. Augustine's Pigeon," "Hooker"), reactionary viragoes ("Mrs. Proctor Bemish"), an evil secretary and a despotic nanny, to name a few-are set up as straw ladies to be torched by reams of male resentment. The misogyny of Mulbach, an embittered insurance salesman who occupies some 90 pages across three stories, as well as the more subdued, exotically inclined sexism of the book's other recurrent voices (Uncle Gates and Koerner), are frequently unpalatable. But they aren't the measure of Connell's vision, which includes inspired depictions among the bile (in particular of Mulbach's young son, Otto, and of a horrifying WWII scene in Guadalcanal). But Connell is also no Celine, whose effulgent prose could transcend his venomous obsessions, and the book ends up trapped in its characters' own unpleasantness. (July)
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June 30, 2009
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